The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has named the Lynn Smith family of Nemaha as winners of the 2017 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program. The Smiths show a dedication to the environment with their conservation practices on their diversified livestock and row-crop operation.

Lynn started farming in 1971 and his son, Seth, followed in his footsteps in 2001. Today, their farm includes 1,900 acres of row crops, 510 acres of pasture, a 500-head feeder to finish hog barn, 210 cow-calf pairs and a 2,200-head feedlot. From their use of conservation tillage beginning in 1979 to reduce erosion to more recent feedlot and pasture renovations, their efforts to improve water quality and soil health on their row-crop acres go hand-in-hand with their expanding cattle operation.

The Smiths’ rotational grazing and an extended grazing season are ideal for the environment. Some of the main environmental advantages are reduction in soil compaction, increased soil fertility, more opportunity for plants to prosper, less waste and efficiently using available feed resources.

In addition to the pasture acres, the Smiths started using cover crops in 2006 and use mostly manure for fertilizer.

"We’re looking at more legume cover crops to grow nitrogen, and cut back on what we purchase," Seth said.

As row-crop land is converted to pasture or grassland, nitrogen and phosphorus losses are cut dramatically. Perennial cover through grazing protects the soil from erosion, provides a habitat for wildlife and pollinators and revitalizes soil health.

The Smith family started organic production in 2001 with oats, alfalfa, corn and soybeans.

"One of the major reasons we’ve been successful is due to generations prior who laid the groundwork for us," Seth said. "Also, the people who work for us on the farm are to thank. It takes a whole different skillset to farm cover crops, control grazing and cultivate row crops. It’s hard to find people who understand it."

As the Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award winners, the Smiths have been nominated for recognition at the regional level, which includes four other states. If they are successful in the regional competition this summer, the Smiths will move on to the national level.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association initiated the environmental award program in 1991 to highlight exceptional work done by cattle producers to protect and enhance the environment. Since its inception, Iowa cattle producers have won 17 regional awards and three national ones.

The Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program is supported by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, Dow AgroSciences, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Kort is a freelance writer in Ankeny.